Konrad Adenauer

German politician, Chancellor of West Germany (1949–1963), Zentrum and CDU

Konrad Hermann Josef Adenauer (January 5, 1876April 19, 1967) was a German statesman. Although his political career spanned 60 years, beginning as early as 1906, he is most noted for his role as Chancellor of West Germany from 1949-1963 and chairman of the Christian Democratic Union from 1950 to 1966. He was the oldest person to be chancellor after the Second World War.

We all live under the same sky, but we don't all have the same horizon.


  • We will never forget. If it takes us five or ten or twenty years, we will never rest until we get our revenge.
    • As quoted by General Sir Charles Fergusson in a memorandum (10 July 1945), recalling conversations with Adenauer in 1918-1919, at the end of World War I. As published in Adenauer : The Father of the New Germany (2000) by Charles Williams, p. 293 books.google
  • Unless we act, events that we Europeans will be unable to influence will overtake us. I believe we Europeans feel far too safe. Europe’s political and economic leadership in the world, which was still unchallenged at the beginning of the century, has long since ceased to exist. Will the dominant cultural influence of Europe be maintained? I think not, unless we defend it and adjust ourselves to new conditions; history has shown that civilisations are all too perishable.
  • A reformation of relations between the Soviet people and the German people is not possible along the lines pursued by the authorities of the Soviet zone of Germany. The Germans in that zone have come to hate and despise those who violate them in so inhuman a manner. And they must be having similar feelings towards those who support that system. The closing of the border is an unprecedented admission of bankruptcy. It shows that the people who are compelled to live in that part of Germany can be prevented only by the use of physical force from leaving that paradise of workers and farmers. There is but one possibility of placing relations between the Soviet and German peoples on a new foundation: the German people must be given back the right, denied to no people on earth, to form, through a free and uninfluenced expression of their will, a government which would then be truly entitled to speak, act and decide on behalf of the whole German nation.
  • The Federal Government and with it all Germans in the Federal Republic of Germany feel in these days particularly close to the Germans in the Soviet-occupied zone. We are all aware of the obligation that we have explicitly taken upon us when adopting our Basic Law. We stated at the time that we acted also on behalf of those Germans to whom participation was denied. To the entire German people on both sides of the zonal border we addressed our appeal to complete in free self-determination the unity and freedom of Germany. Our fellow-citizens in the Soviet-occupied zone should even in these critical days not doubt for a moment that we shall never slacken in striving passionately for the attainment of this great objective.
  • Make Europe your revenge.
    • To French PM Guy Mollet after British PM Sir Anthony Eden unilaterally cancelled the Suez operation, thus angering Mollet. (6 November 1956), as quoted in Europe's Troubled Peace, 1945-2000 (2006) by Tom Buchanan, p.102, 2nd ed. 2012 p. 84 books.google
  • In view of the fact that God limited the intelligence of man, it seems unfair that he did not also limit his stupidity.
    • As quoted in A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965) by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., p. 291 books.google
  • I am a German, but I am also, and always have been, a European and have always felt like a European. I have therefore long advocated an understanding with France; I did so, moreover, in the 1920s, during the severest crises, and also in the face of the Reich Government.
    • Konrad Adenauer: Memoirs 1945-1953 (1966)
  • The French fear of German resurgence which caused France to press for a policy of dismemberment of Germany seemed to be altogether exaggerated. After 1945 Germany lay prostrate - militarily, economically and politically - and in my opinion this condition was a sufficient guarantee that Germany could not again threaten France. In the future United States of Europe I saw great hope for Europe and thus for Germany. We had to try to remind France, Holland, Belgium, and the other European countries that they were - as we were - situated in Western Europe, that they are and will forever remain our neighbours, that any violence they do to us must in the end lead to trouble, and that no lasting peace can be established in Europe if it is founded on force alone.
    • Konrad Adenauer: Memoirs 1945-1953 (1966)
  • After twelve years of National Socialism there simply were no perfect solutions for Germany and certainly none for a divided Germany. There was very often only the policy of the lesser evil. We were a small and very exposed country. By our own strength we could achieve nothing. We must not be a no-man's land between East and West for then we would have friends nowhere and a dangerous neighbour in the East.
    • Konrad Adenauer: Memoirs 1945-1953 (1966)
  • An unsteady nation has no friends. The German people seriously worry me. The only thing I can say for them is that they have lived through too much. They have not found peace of mind and stability since the war of 1914-18.
    • As quoted in "Adenauer 1876-1967" (28 April 1967) by James Bell, Life, Vol. 62, No. 17
  • I reserve the right to be smarter today than I was yesterday.
  • What do I care about my nonsense from yesterday?
    • As quoted in Discussion : Mastering the Skills of Moderation (2009) by Horst Hanisch, p. 91


  • We all live under the same sky, but we don't all have the same horizon.
  • History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided.
    • Lend Me Your Ears: Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations (2010), 4th edition, edited by Antony Jay

Quotes about

  • Did it have to come to this? The paradox is that when Europe was less united, it was in many ways more independent. The leaders who ruled in the early stages of integration had all been formed in a world before the global hegemony of the United States, when the major European states were themselves imperial powers, whose foreign policies were self-determined. These were people who had lived through the disasters of the Second World War, but were not crushed by them. This was true not just of a figure like De Gaulle, but of Adenauer and Mollet, of Eden and Heath, all of whom were quite prepared to ignore or defy America if their ambitions demanded it. Monnet, who did not accept their national assumptions, and never clashed with the US, still shared their sense of a future in which Europeans could settle their own affairs, in another fashion. Down into the 1970s, something of this spirit lived on even in Giscard and Schmidt, as Carter discovered. But with the neo-liberal turn of the 1980s, and the arrival in power in the 1990s of a postwar generation, it faded. The new economic doctrines cast doubt on the state as a political agent, and the new leaders had never known anything except the Pax Americana. The traditional springs of autonomy were gone.
    • Perry Anderson, "Depicting Europe", London Review of Books (20 September 2007)
  • Among the most anxious witnesses to the Hungarian and Suez crises was West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The Federal Republic, NATO’s newest member, had declared its neutrality in the war against Egypt, but it had been jarred by the Soviets’ brutal repression in Hungary and by Moscow’s threats to London and Paris as well as by America’s cavalier treatment of its principal European allies. Seizing the moment of his arrival in Paris on November 6, just as the ceasefire was announced, Adenauer urged his hosts to work together to “build Europe.”
    • Carole C. Fink, The Cold War: An International History (2017)
  • On each of the six leaders profiled in this book, these upheavals left an indelible mark. The political career of Konrad Adenauer (born 1876), who served as mayor of Cologne from 1917 to 1933, would include the interwar conflict with France over the Rhineland as well as the rise of Hitler; during the Second World War, he was twice imprisoned by the Nazis. Beginning in 1949, Adenauer shepherded Germany past the lowest point of its history by abandoning its decades-long quest for domination of Europe, anchoring Germany in the Atlantic Alliance, and rebuilding it on a moral foundation which reflected his own Christian values and democratic convictions.
    • Henry Kissinger, Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy (2022), pp. 19-20
  • Born in 1876 – only five years after German unification under Bismarck – Adenauer was for the rest of his life associated with his native city of Cologne, with its towering Gothic cathedral overlooking the Rhine and its history as an important locus in the Hanseatic constellation of mercantile city-states. As an adult, Adenauer had experienced the unified German state’s three post-Bismarck configurations: its truculence under the Kaiser, domestic upheavals under the Weimar Republic, and adventurism under Hitler, culminating in self-destruction and disintegration. In striving to remake a place for his country in a legitimate postwar order, he faced a legacy of global resentment and, at home, the disorientation of a public battered by the long sequence of revolution, world war, genocide, defeat, partition, economic collapse and loss of moral integrity. He chose a course both humble and daring: to confess German iniquities; accept the penalties of defeat and impotence, including the partition of his country; allow the dismantling of its industrial base as war reparations; and seek through submission to build a new European structure within which Germany could become a trusted partner. Germany, he hoped, would become a normal country, though always, he knew, with an abnormal memory.
    • Henry Kissinger, Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy (2022), pp. 19-20
  • In West Germany and here in Berlin, there took place an economic miracle, the Wirtschaftswunder [Miracle on the Rhine]. Adenauer, Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty -- that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom. The German leaders -- the German leaders reduced tariffs, expanded free trade, lowered taxes. From 1950 to 1960 alone, the standard of living in West Germany and Berlin doubled.
  • But the will to not let history repeat itself, to do something radically new, was so strong that new words had to be found. For people Europe was a promise, Europe equalled hope. When Konrad Adenauer came to Paris to conclude the Coal and Steel Treaty, in 1951, one evening he found a gift waiting at his hotel. It was a war medal, une Croix de Guerre, that had belonged to a French soldier. His daughter, a young student, had left it with a little note for the Chancellor, as a gesture of reconciliation and hope. I can see many other stirring images before me. Leaders of six States assembled to open a new future, in Rome, città eternaWilly Brandt kneeling down in Warsaw. The dockers of Gdansk, at the gates of their shipyard. Mitterrand and Kohl hand in hand. Two million people linking Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius in a human chain, in 1989. These moments healed Europe.
  • The biggest Cold War problem inside western Europe was how to handle the German question. From the setting up of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, there had always been a suspicion that West German leaders would give up on Western cohesion in order to strike a deal with the USSR on reunification. The idea was not far-fetched. Mistrust of Germans, any Germans, went together with the knowledge that under Cold War conditions such a deal was the only means through which the Germans could achieve what other Europeans assumed were their most cherished aims. But the assumption of German pliability toward the Soviets foundered on the thinking of the West German Bundeskanzler (premier) Konrad Adenauer. A conservative Christian Democrat from Rhineland in the west of the country, Adenauer wanted reunification, but he wanted his Germany’s integration with the Western powers even more. Adenauer was keenly aware of how enticing the siren song of reunification, even under Communist conditions, could be to some of his countrymen. He therefore at all times prioritized cooperation with the French and with the Americans. “For us, there is no doubt that we belong to the western European world through heritage and temperament,” he had said already in his first declaration as German premier. And Adenauer became a constant in West German politics, remaining chancellor until 1963, when he was eighty-seven years old.
    • Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A Global History (2017)
  • But what really gave credence, to Germans and other Europeans alike, to Adenauer’s Westbindung (attachment to the West), was the extraordinary recovery of the West German economy that started around 1950. The Wirtschaftswunder, the German economic miracle, had many causes. Marshall Plan assistance and the linking of the deutschmark to the US dollar was one. The gradual integration of the West German economy into a western European framework was another. Perhaps most important was the US decision to shield the Federal Republic of Germany from the full effect of wartime debt and postwar reparations. The FRG had to pay some reparations, and the dismantling of some German industries and compensatory takeover of patents and technology continued until the early 1950s. But the cumulative burden of excessive debt never came into play. As a result, West Germany was even freer than some of its new Western partners to plan for further expansion as its economy began to grow. The social transformation the Wirtschaftswunder created was one of the biggest stories of postwar Europe. In 1945 all of Germany was a bombed-out disaster zone. Ten years later most people had jobs that paid well enough for their families both to consume and to save. Industries and infrastructure were approaching prewar levels. Housing was being rebuilt at astonishing rates. West German banks had credit available and the country’s currency and interest rates were stable. The West German economy grew by more than 5 percent year on year during the 1950s and ’60s. It was the highest growth rate of any major European economy, more than twice that of Britain, for instance.
    • Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A Global History (2017)
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